From Whitman History 101

  1. The Board of Trustees changed the name of the Whitman Theatre to Harper Joy Theatre in 1967 to honor longtime trustee Harper Joy ’22 for his outstanding service to the college.
  2. If you said either 1958 or 1959, you’re correct. Construction on the Whitman Theatre began in 1958 (cost: $141,000). However, the “first official season in a building with a roof” was 1959, according to HJT Director Nancy Simon ’63. Why did Whitman need a new theater? Its first facility — a barracks from the old McCaw military hospital relocated to campus — burned down in the spring of 1958.
  3. Four HJT directors preceded Simon: Jack Freimann, Rodney Alexander, Frederick Hunter and Edith Blackman Merrell Davis.
    • 1967-1996: John R. “Jack” Freimann was a great teacher, director, designer and friend to Whitman theater students, and the current black-box stage is named for him. The college bestowed upon him an honorary doctor of humanities in 2002.
    • 1948-1967: Rodney Alexander established the drama major and was instrumental in the design of the current HJT building.
    • 1946-1948: Frederick J. Hunter
    • 1901-1946: Edith Blackman Merrell Davis directed numerous plays at Whitman. Her husband, William R. Davis, was an English professor. One of Edith’s “most successful productions was ‘Elijah,’ performed in 1931 at Borleske Stadium with a large chorus, the local symphony and many student soloists before an audience estimated at 5,000.”
  4. “She Loves Me,” a joint production of HJT and the Whitman music department, was staged in May 2009. It has been presented on the HJT stage twice before, in 1966 and in 1987. Simon was delighted to be directing this latest version. “I have always adored this little jewel of a musical, and I think its story of simple people seeking happiness despite hard times reverberates for us today.” The picture of the older production is either from 1966 or 1987.

    She Loves MeThanks to all the alumni who e-mailed to tell us this photo is from the 1966 Harper Joy Theatre production of “She Loves Me.” Here are a few of the responses:

    Clayton Patrick ’66 writes: “It’s the 1966 production, and the two people pictured are Louise Wilkinson ’66, who played Amalia, and Dirk Niewoehner ’67, who played George. Of course, Dirk is now Dirk Benedict, and achieved fame as “Starbuck” in the first “Battlestar Galactica” TV series, and then later as “Face” on “The A-Team.”

    Kimberly Starr ’90, a cast member of the 1987 “She Loves Me” ruled out the possibility the photo was from that production. She writes: “I remember (HJT Director) Jack Freimann trying to find that hat downstairs in the costume shop for our production, and he was disappointed it could not be found. We found it at some point while I was still at the college, and the box it was in was labeled Amalia’s Hat. Thanks for bringing back memories of a great show!”

    I read in Whitman Magazine (July 2009) that the editors of said publication are stumped as to the date of production photo of musical “She Loves Me.” Is it ’66 or ’87? they ask. (And why only those two years I wonder?) I hate giving away my age, but can’t resist knowing the answer to a question... something I seldom did during my years at Whitman. The correct year is ’66. It was a fabulous production as I remember. Now the big question is who the heck are the two “kids” in the picture? If there's a prize... I might know the answer.
    Sincerely,
    Dirk Niewoehner ’67

  5. The latest major HJT renovation was completed in 1985 and included the addition of the Freimann Stage. The photo is undated but is most likely from spring 1984. Plans now under discussion to renovate the facility in the coming years include the addition of offices, classroom space and a larger black box theater.